Mumbai: Rationalist and anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated in Pune on 20 August, 2013 while he was on a morning stroll. The assailants fired at Dabholkar, before escaping on a motorcycle. In a similar manner, veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare was shot at on 16 February this year, while he was on a morning walk with his wife at Kolhapur in western Maharashtra. Pansare died on Friday night in Mumbai. His wife Uma is recovering under medical care.

Just like Dabholkar, Pansare had received death threats from right-wing groups over the years. Over the last six months, the frequency of these threats had increased.

Activists of a right wing group had recently tried to disrupt Pansare’s lecture at Kolhapur’s Shivaji University, where he spoke of social reformer Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj who ruled the erstwhile princely state of Kolhapur between late 19th century and early 20th century. Pansare’s statement that it was no wonder the process of glorification of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, had begun after those who claim to be swayamsevaks (volunteers) rose to high offices like those of the prime minister and chief minister, had raised the hackles of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Pansare’s statement was a clear accusation against Prime Minster Narendra Modi and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, both of them swayamsevaks who rose through the ranks.

Pansare received threats after he opposed Putra Kameshti Yagya—a Hindu ritual to beget male children—and for organizing a discussion over the book Who Killed Karkare by S.M. Mushriff, a former Indian Police Service officer from the Maharashtra cadre.

Obviously, the Hindu right-wing groups are on the radar of the Maharashtra police. The police have so far failed to find the killers of Dabholkar either, despite a change of government in the meantime. Though these are early days, police have so far no clue about the identity of assailants or their masterminds in the Pansare case.

In the early days of investigating Dabholkar’s case, the police machinery focused its energies on finding the involvement of right wing Hindu groups as directed by the then Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government. Consequently, the police overlooked other possible reasons for Dabholkar’s murder.

For instance, there is much credibility in a theory that Dabholkar may have been bumped off by people whose monetary interests were hurt by his promotion of rationalism. Just before his death, Dabholkar had launched an agitation against jewellers who sold rings and lockets containing precious stones with the promise that those who buy and wear them will see better fortunes. These jewellers also offer services of astrologers to decide which particular precious stone is suitable for a person, depending on their star sign and horoscope. The police seemingly did not investigate this angle till very late. Their insistence on only one aspect could have given enough time to the assailants and their masterminds to erase evidence.

Dabholkar was also the trustee and editor of Sadhana, a weekly Marathi magazine dedicated to the socialist movement in India. The magazine’s headquarters is at Pune’s Shaniwar Peth area, which is prime real estate. Investigations found that several builders had approached Dabholkar to redevelop the property. However, Dabholkar had rejected those proposals.

By the time police started turning their attention to these angles, there were few leads.

Similarly, Pansare had led the agitation against the levy of toll in Kolhapur. Earlier, he had played a key role in organizing workers from unorganized sectors such as house maids, construction labourers and workers in restaurants and hotels, among others. In fact, partly due to his efforts, the state legislature in 2008 passed the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Act, which guarantees minimum wages and other benefits for household workers.

However, just to put things in perspective, it is nobody’s case, and certainly not this author’s, that the assassinations of Pansare or Dabholkar happened only due to vested commercial interests and right wing Hindu organization have nothing to do with it.

In fact, they should be prime suspects and if indeed these attacks were carried out by Hindu right wing groups, then it is a challenge not only for Maharashtra police but for the entire Indian state.

Both assassinations had a professional nature. So far, attacks by the so-called Hindu terror groups have been at best amateurish. For instance, the 2008 blast at the parking lot of a Thane auditorium where a play was staged with allegedly derogatory references to Hindu gods, thankfully failed to injure anybody. In 2009, a youth connected to right-wing Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha actually got killed while planting a bomb in Goa.

So, if indeed the Hindu right wing groups were behind the murders of both Dabholkar and Pansare, it should serve as an alert to investigative and security agencies across the country. The professional manner in which these thinkers belonging to the anti-Hindutva school were eliminated could be an indication of worse things to come.

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